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Transgender Emerson student announces that insurance decision reversed, surgery will be covered

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  March 7, 2013 12:05 PM

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Donnie Collins (center) was photographed last week with fraternity brothers Christian Bergren-Aragon (left) and Ryan Sweeney. At that time their effort had raised $15,693. It has now raised more than $20,000.

The good news is only getting better for a transgender student at Emerson College.

Last week Donnie Collins’ story went viral after reported that his fraternity brothers had created a fund-raising page at to help raise money for Collins’ transition surgery when his insurance company declined his claim.

People around the world saw Collins’ situation, and the support of his new brothers in Phi Alpha Tau, a professional communications fraternity, and they donated far more than the $2,000 the brothers originally set out to raise.

By Thursday morning, they had raised more than $20,000 for the surgery, which will remove breast tissue and reconstruct a more masculine chest for Colllins, who was born female but began living as a man before graduating high school.

But in a Facebook post and YouTube video posted Wednesday night, Collins said he received notice March 1 that his insurance company had accepted his claim.

“I submitted my first claim a month ago, so it’s been a month since I’ve really had any dealing with insurance,” Collins said in the YouTube video. “I did not instigate this. It was totally unexpected. I was very confused.”

Collins could not be reached for comment Thursday morning, but in the video he said Emerson’s student insurance policy does cover breast removal surgery for transgender men who meet certain criteria, but the language explaining the standard had not made it into the policy issued by Aetna, the college’s insurance provider.

“It’s really cool, because it now means that we have this reconciled understanding of what the policy is, and that is evident in the writing of the policy now, even though it wasn’t before,” Collins said in the video.

In a statement, Emerson College said it had contacted Aetna for clarification after the rejection of Collins’ original request. The college said benefits for transgender medical care have been part of its policy with Aetna since 2006, but “the policy language had inadvertently not been updated by Aetna on their internal documents.”

“Aetna has since updated their internal documentation, to accurately reflect the college’s policy,” the statement said. “Diversity and inclusion are a priority for the college, and we continuously strive to be a place that encourages open hearts and open minds.”

Still, Collins said, after learning that the surgery could be covered, he needed official confirmation that he met the criteria and his particular surgery would be covered. He said he waited from the first phone call on Friday until Wednesday to be sure he was covered before making a public announcement.

“This is amazing, because it means that of all the money we’ve raised, I’m only going to need to use about $2,000 for my co-pay and travel and care expenses,” he said in the video. “Meaning that $18,000, which is now our excess amount of fund-raised money, can go to the Jim Collins Foundation, the organization that we’ve pledged it to. We can help people that need this money a lot more than I do.”

The Jim Collins Foundation is a Connecticut-based nonprofit that funds gender-transition surgeries. The late Jim Collins and Donnie Collins are not related.

“As a trans person, this is literally the coolest thing in the world to me, to see that money go to people who need it and deserve it a hundred percent,” Collins said.

Collins’ video is below. It contains one brief profanity.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at
Follow him on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow Your Campus Emerson on Twitter: @YCEmerson.

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